With apologies to librarians, travel agents and Blockbuster, there are few industries over the past few decades that have changed as dramatically as public relations. Communications, in general, has been transformed, of course—digitized in a way that has meant greater speed, enhanced creativity and improved efficiency—so much so that for old timers like me, it can be a challenge just to keep up.
Digital Marketing is More Credible Marketing (to Clients)
No one could have predicted what this transformation would have brought us over the past 30 years. Technology has affected not only the manner in which we carry out our work—an evolution that has gone from snail mailing news releases to faxing and now emailing them, from calling up outlets to hand-build media lists to simply logging into Cision—but the explosion of new digital platforms has created such a disruption in the traditions of our business that media relations is no longer the be-all end-all of our days. Don’t get me wrong, we still regard our media relations work as an essential part of who we are—and we think we’re pretty darned good at it—but reaching our clients’ core audiences directly, precisely and efficiently over social platforms has opened up a whole new toolbox for driving client success. Yes, call us big fans of the earned, owned, paid model.
The digitization of public relations also has stopped us from cringing when clients raise the matter of ROI. While there’s something intuitive that says that that article in The Wall Street Journal or that placement on the TODAY Show should drive sales (and they typically do), the quantitative impact of a media relations campaign beyond that often can be elusive. Calculating a client’s return on investment at incremental levels has meant turning to some age-old proxies, metrics that give us some numbers to wrap our efforts around, despite their imperfections. Most prominent is the total circulation/viewership of the placements. That’s become an industry standard, even though most PR pros know those numbers can be suspect and often include multiples, a publication’s assumption that folks are sharing the articles with non-subscribers. Then there are those who calculate what’s called the Ad Value Equivalency, i.e. how much a print ad or TV spot of equivalent size in the outlet would cost. Ugh, let’s not go there.
Thankfully, no, mercifully, the digital world of public relations lends itself to far more credible metrics for determining the effectiveness of our work. After all, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. But because so many of these tools are new and continue to evolve, we hear from many clients that they are not sure what they are or what makes the most sense for them. Obviously, if the focus of your efforts remains exclusively on media relations, then you are consigning yourself to the anachronistic metrics of the past. On the other hand, if you have fully embraced an inbound marketing strategy in which media relations (read: earned media) is simply one component of a larger digital program, then you are in a position to begin measuring how well you are doing.
Top Marketing Metrics for Digital Campaign
So, what are the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) to embrace? If you think about marketing as a process to turn strangers into prospects, and then prospects into customers—the so-called “buyers journey”—the metrics that you want to focus on fall into one of three stages.
- Traffic: It starts with getting new eyeballs to notice you and, once they do, get them intrigued enough about who you are so that they visit your website and poke around some on it.
- Conversion: Converting visitors to leads is the critical next step, and conversion metrics can give you a crystal clear window into what you are doing right and what might need some tweaking.
- Revenue: Ultimately, every marketing program needs to measure how effectively its investment and underlying strategy are driving sales.
These overarching categories are the likely goals of every digital marketing strategy and reflect the broad phases of customer acquisition. Within each stage are precise analytics that can give you real-time data on what’s working and what’s not. Here are some of the specific measures you ought to consider in each category:
Start with the raw numbers. How much traffic is your marketing campaign or tactic generating? It’s basically a before/after measurement, assuming you did not take other actions at the same time (here’s a tip: don’t). Lots of folks get hung up on number of page views, which is an important number, but it also can give you a false sense of success. A more telling figure is the number of unique visitors to your site over a given period. Remember, you’re after more customers, and you improve your chances of acquiring them when you increase the number of new visitors to your site.
You also should pay attention to how those visitors found their way to you. If you are paying for search terms through either an SEO or pay-per-click campaign, note which words are the most effective traffic drivers. The same goes for your content strategy. When you post blogs (which you should do regularly), determine what topics are most successful at getting readers to click through to your site. The same goes for posting other kinds of content—curated articles from other sources, YouTube videos or other images. How much impact on web traffic does posting your own earned media placement have on your social platforms? That third-party validation that comes from media relations success can be a real driver of new visitors. The point is, figure out what you are doing right, and keep doing it.
That also goes for how you are spending your ad dollars on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. Remember, with organic reach pretty much a thing of the past, boosting your content through paid ads on these platforms is essential for growing audiences. And so the same kind of assessment is necessary to determine what kind of ads are most effective and with what audiences. Keep experimenting with various combinations until you find your sweet spot.
And speaking of social platforms, the traffic on them also is an important indicator of performance, as is the frequency in which your audiences share the content on those platforms with others, or what’s known as the “amplification rate.” (Make sure to get that phrase in at your next marketing meeting if you want to sound up on all this.)
Now that you’ve successfully mixed the right recipe for luring new folks to your homepage, the next important step is to ensure that what they are experiencing on your site is relevant, informative and valuable. Two related metrics for measuring a site’s relevancy and value are the average page views per visit and the average time a visitor is spending on your site. Both are obviously telling barometers for how interested visitors are in you—your expertise, people, track record of success and even your overall brand. The more pages they visit and the longer they stay on those pages, the more engaged they are and the greater the likelihood that they want to take your relationship to the next level—i.e. conversion to a prospect.
Conversely, you also should take note of your “bounce rate,” a measure of the visitors who leave as soon as they arrive. High bounce rates are more likely a symptom that the wrong kind of person (read: not your prime prospect) has found his way to your site, and you’ll need to address that upstream. If that is not the case, however, if you your ideal prospects are not engaging quickly with your site, then you’ve got some serious problems with your content, whether it’s the branding/design of the pages or what folks are reading on them. While you might be tempted to rationalize why visitors are not spending a lot of time on your site or clicking through to many pages, there really is no explaining away a high bounce rate. It could mean that some major restructuring or re-strategizing is in order.
Not everyone becomes a customer the first time they visit your site, so another important metric to be monitoring is the rate of return visitors. You want to begin a relationship with your prospects, and that means that they should continually get value from you on every occasion they visit your website. That’s one reason we’re such big fans of blogging. Blogs are a great way to showcase your expertise, give visitors a “behind-the-scenes” look at what you are up to lately and help nurture a sense of community with your audiences. Websites with static content do nothing to entice prospects to return for more, and that’s an essential part of conversion. If you have a high rate of return traffic, you are doing something right.
We had a local startup client that made some tasty products, and we were able to get it featured on a TODAY Show segment with Hoda and Kathy Lee. Before the show was over, traffic to the company’s website was so robust, it overwhelmed its capacity to respond. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we were able to tie this explosion of traffic to the site to the two hosts happily licking their spoons on network television, and every order the company got that day directly went into calculating the metric that is most important of all—return on investment. How much return did the company get on what they paid us to create and execute our campaign? I don’t have the numbers, but my guess is that it was an extremely effective investment.
ROI is not always so easily calculated. That a sudden crush of site traffic in the moments after a national TV appearance was due to the product being featured on the show is a logical assumption. That often happens as well on days following the publication of stories in major print outlets. But for some clients, an article in a niche trade publication can open the door to hugely profitable new deals. All it may take is that one hit. Even so, the most prudent assessment of a campaign’s ROI is over a longer term. If you have undertaken a media relations campaign over the past six months, for example, and there have been no other marketing variables during that time (e.g. you didn’t run a concurrent direct mail or print campaign), it’s logical to assume that any spike in revenue was due to that campaign.
The same logic holds for the entire EOP strategy. Give the campaign a proper gestation period (say, at least six months), hold off on introducing other marketing activity during that period, and then take a look at your numbers at the end of that half-year. That should give you a measure for the kind of ROI you are getting from your campaign.
And while you are assessing ROI, it’s also a good time to look at your customer retention rates. You might have a business that does not lend itself to repeat customers, and that’s fine. But you want to make sure that once you have brought new clients into the fold, that you keep them. The EOP model lends itself to deepening your relationships with existing customers, and you can find out how well you are doing on that score by calculating customer retention.
There’s Always More to Measure for Your Marketing Goals
The above KPIs are really just a primer in the analytics that are available today to marketers, and you may be surprised to hear that there are actually dozens more digital marketing metrics out there. (There are at least 50 here.) But if you begin with these three, you will be well on your way to communicating the effectiveness of your earned, owned, and paid marketing campaigns.